John Divola - biography
Born 1949

A lifelong habitué of Los Angeles, John Divola was born in 1949 - since when he's been pretty busy; his exhibitions number more than 40 solo shows across four continents, and over 130 group exhibitions since 1973. He also collects and exhibits vintage set stills from Hollywood movies - an opaque pointer to his own work's concerns with desire and artificiality.

In 1974 Divola made a photographic series entitled the 'Vandalism Series', in which he graffito'd and documented the interiors of condemned buildings. But it was 'Zuma', his connected series of 25 photographs from 1977 that really made his name. Interested in the relation between real artworks and representations of them - (a consequence of growing up seeing art mostly in repro), and in subsidiary issues of the natural and the artificial, Divola used deserted houses on Zuma Beach to materialize his thinking. He covered their walls in graffiti, and then photographed the nearby ocean from the house's interior through tagged windows and cracks - an explicitly cultural framing of the exterior world.

Discussing this early work, Divola said 'I attempted ... to develop a practise in which there could be no distinction between the document and the original.' His predilections for forlorn, provisional structures, for presenting a mediated view of reality, and for recording man's passage through inhospitable environments, would all resurface again later.

During the 80s Divola's work moved towards a theory-buffered emphasis on artificiality. He used colored lighting gels, built faux-modernist sculptures and did a lot of post-production on his photographs of them. Considering modernism's rhetoric of transformation from a distance - and, as a result, becoming more interested in figuring transcendence - was the starting point for the stunning unadorned landscape photography which Divola has produced since the early 90s - 'images that probe, literally and metaphorically, the cultural edge,' as he commented in 1998.

In 1993, Divola struck out for empty space again. His 1993 series 'Four Landscapes' - 20 images in all - featured, variously, a lone figure wandering through Yosemite; a little shack in the wilderness; a wandering dog in LA; and a distant boat on a glittering, foam-flecked ocean - seriously loaded, grainy works which traced a schematic desire for escape, movement and transcendence.

The photographs of isolated houses which Divola has produced since then are edge landscapes; the areas where Los Angeles turns to desert scrub and housing thins out dramatically. Here, in wondrously-hued, deadpan architectural portraits, Divola introduces the tumbledown properties of rugged spirits who have escaped the metropolis; houses always seen at a few meters distance - welcome, you've just arrived. Viewing them, one simultaneously feels drawn towards these icons of feasible escape, and made conscious of what a cliché that desire is. Every nowhere is another person's somewhere. That is Divola's achievement: to replay myth while dispersing its aura.

From "Eyestorm" web page 2003